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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

www.donnafletchercrow.com

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

 

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.

China Burning

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ March 12, 2020

While our world is in the grip of the Covid-19 virus, it’s instructive to ponder how history repeats itself. And how Good ultimately triumphs. Here, lifted from the pages of my newly re-released Where Love Calls, book 6 in the Where There is Love Series, we have scenes from China, 1880-1883, as another contagious epidemic rages. Yet, God brings glory from it.

T’ai-yuen Fu, capital of the province of Shansi, North China, was four hundred miles inland from the nearest port—six weeks by sea, then twenty days’ travel by foot and pony cart from England. But tonight, missionary Harold Schofield’s heart was back home in England as he poured out his deepest longing to God that more university students would catch the vision of ministering in China.

One of the most brilliant medical students of his generation, winner of scholarships, prizes, and honours in Oxford, London, Vienna, and Prague, Harold had ignored the protests of all who argued that it would be a waste to abandon his promising career and bury himself in far-off China. But Harold and his young wife Libby never considered forsaking their call to serve as missionaries with the China Inland Mission.

Their day began before the sun rose—starting with a prayer meeting for their 35 inpatients, then ministering to the 150 outpatients who had come to the dispensary that day. Always so much disease: smallpox, typhus, yellow fever and cholera spread so quickly among the untreated poor and continually threatened epidemic proportions. A new epidemic seemed to break out before the last one could be contained. And the bubonic plague, begun many years ago in southern China, continued to spread. Many were using the word pandemic to describe the situation.

Harold had ended the day with an evening of street preaching alongside a fellow missionary, and now he could leave the sounds and smells of China behind him and focus on his vision for God to raise up young men in England to preach his Word to the Chinese. “Give us the very best, Lord. Call the best for your kingdom, the brightest to bear the torch of your truth.”

Harold dropped his broad, smooth forehead into his hands and then ran his fingers over the fair hair that fell to his shoulder in a pigtail. His mind filled with images of the men of talent and leadership he longed for God to send to China.

Time passed. Had he been praying for an hour? Two hours? He was vaguely aware of the fading light in his room and of the fact that dinnertime was long past. Yet the urgency of his burden would not lift. He pictured the universities in his mind as if a great map hung on the wall in front of him: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge…

*

Each day followed a similar pattern—no matter how hard the work, how overwhelming the poverty and disease he fought against every day—Harold Schofield would not give up.

The dispensary was finally closed after a long day. He stood and tugged at his long blue Makwa gown with the little standup collar. His wife came toward him, clad likewise in the native blue and black pajamas. He put his hand on her stomach. It still felt flat under the padded jacket. “And how is Little Harold today?”

Libby laughed and kissed his cheek. “Your son is very well, honourable husband. Do you have time to go for a walk before the street preaching?”

“Absolutely. Wonderful idea.” Harold’s enthusiasm was always unbounded, especially for getting out into the beauties of the world he loved so much.

They walked through the courtyard with the dispensary, operating room, and men’s waiting room on one side and the women’s room on the other. Crossing the garden, they paused to inspect their grapevines, fruit trees, potatoes, and beans—all producing healthy crops. At the little lodge by the one entrance in the high wall that surrounded the house, Harold waved to Lao Yang, the porter. Yang’s job was to keep out disreputable characters and admit patients to the dispensary at proper hours.

Tonight Harold and Libby turned toward their favorite path. Strolling atop the city wall, they moved slowly, enjoying the view of the city below them on one side and, on the other, open green countryside running to a gleaming river at the foot of a steep mountain range.

“What are you thinking, Harold?” Libby slipped her hand into his.

His face lit with his characteristic sweet smile. “I was thinking of the 40,000 souls inside that wall—and wondering if those who urged me to stay in England would feel differently if they could see the need here.”

“No regrets then?”

“Only that I didn’t come sooner. Oh, Libby, if only Christians would pray in one accord for a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. A multitude of missionaries could speedily be raised up—and people to support them.”

Libby nodded. “It would be wonderful to see.”

“Yes! Just think what would happen—just think…” He took a deep breath, his face radiant with the vision of possibilities.

*

Almost a year later, the ideal was undimmed as Harold sat in his office off the surgery room of his hospital/home. That morning he had tended to the physical and spiritual needs of 135 outpatients who had come to his dispensary—including four opium addicts and several of the wolf bites so frequent. Then he had spent an hour preaching on the street under the projecting roofs of the shop fronts.

It had taken most of their first year in China to learn the language, so it was so good to have gained sufficient fluency in that fiendishly difficult subject that he could now take full part in preaching the Gospel. Today the people had been jovial and friendly—none of the ill-feeling against foreigners one often encountered. And none had been dead drunk, although a good many had smelled strongly of drink.

Harold made an effort to record his day in his journal, but his arms were so tired that even the task of dipping his pen was difficult. He stopped writing and looked out his unshuttered window to the wall surrounding their garden. In his mind he could see the vast plateau that covered most of this northern province, the mountains that bounded it on three sides, and the Yellow River that flowed from them along its western border. He saw the land dotted with tiny agricultural villages with their flocks of sheep and chickens and herds of pigs beside the fields of wheat, oats, and sesame.

But mostly, in his mind, he saw the people locked in darkness, the women kept in submission with their doll-sized bound feet, the children growing up without hope of a better life. And Harold Schofield’s heart went out to them in love, a reflection of the love he knew Christ bore for them. He turned again to his journal with his heart full of the needs around him: “What we want is not more knowledge of truth, but more practical carrying it out. Christ must be our one object in everything. We need an intense, abiding desire to do his will. None but abiding desires will God fulfill.”

*

The following spring the weather in Shansi was unseasonably warm for northern China. Elizabeth Schofield, clad in blue cotton pajamas like all the women around her, had chosen to leave two-year-old Harold, Jr., at the mission and accompany her husband on his joggling cart ride as he carried medicines and God’s love to a neighboring village. From the dirt road that wound across the high plateau, she surveyed the valley before them with the yellow-brown river running slowly through it. “Oh, Harold, I can never get accustomed to the vastness of this place. It seems that China goes on forever. Its great size and age must explain why the people are so quiet and simple. The rhythms of patience are deep in the soul of their land.”

“Quiet and simple until they flare with hatred of foreigners,” Harold replied. Then his blue eyes crinkled as he smiled at his wife. “I’m so glad you find satisfaction here, Libby. I’m so aware of all you’ve given up to come to China with me.” He shifted the reins to one hand so he could hold hers. “As much as I love it, I don’t pretend there aren’t hardships.”

Libby thought of the days of traveling when the wind whipped up the yellowish-brown loam that covered the entire region and the dust obscured the whole sky. They quickly learned to tie handkerchiefs over their faces to protect their eyes. And the wind among the hills could be far keener than anything she knew at home—sometimes so cutting that she chilled in spite of her thickly padded clothing. But today the terraced hills were covered with soft green wheat several inches high, and sweet perfume from the flowers of bean and mustard plants filled the air.

She laughed, a sound Harold often described as small bells ringing in the air. “Hardships? Perhaps. But I am so honoured to share all this with you. How many women in England have ever dreamed of such a place, let alone experienced it?”

Harold raised his blond eyebrows. “And count themselves lucky for it. You are a marvel, Libby. I thank God for you every day.”

The road was very hilly. At one point Harold, forever the scientist, took out his aneroid and measured their elevation. “It’s 3,750 feet.” He glanced at the steep ridge above them. “The hills themselves must be a mile high.”

The path wound through a gully so deep that the view was completely obscured in every direction. Then, around another curve, the vista opened out to them. Harold stopped the cart and gazed. Libby smiled at her husband’s constant delight in the beauties of nature. He’d told her how, as a child, he had nowhere else been as happy as in the wilds and beauties of the English countryside and had loved to exercise his splendid physique in long tramps over open moors or in the Welsh mountains.

He took an artist’s delight in running water, and in light and shade playing on water and on foliage. “Look, Libby.” He pointed and watched, breathless, as the shadow of a cloud passed over the mountain. His face shone brighter than the outburst of sunshine that followed the shade. “Has not God made everything splendidly?”

As they went down into the village, they met large numbers of men carrying loads of earthenware and iron jars slung from the ends of poles neatly balanced across their shoulders. They also passed donkeys, mules, and ponies—all laden with coal from the mines in the hills. There was even a string of seven or eight camels with deep-toned bells on their necks, whose sound contrasted agreeably with the tinklings of the mules’ bells.

Then they passed through one of the T’ien-men, Heavenly Gates, where an old priest sat before the entrance to a temple. He was beating a gong and holding out a plate for contributions.

From the road they could see over the vast plain of T’ai-yuen dotted with towns and villages. With the old priest’s gong sounding behind them, Harold shook his head. “It is estimated that there are three million souls in that valley. And every one of them is God’s child—a human being the Father loves. Yet there is not one solitary preacher of the Gospel, native or foreign, among them.”

Libby pressed his arm silently. She knew the weight of the burden he carried. “I know, my love. It seems so hopeless. We help a few. But there are millions.” After a moment she continued. “We must both remember what you have said more than once—all we have to do is to see that our light is burning, well supplied with oil and trimmed. Then it will shine out—God will take care of that.”

They passed into their first village. Like many other villages on the upland plain, it was more than half-deserted. The empty houses, with broken roofs and crumbling walls lining silent streets gave sad evidence of the terrible famine two years earlier. Millions in the province of Shansi had died of hunger and disease.

The first people they saw were a band of blind beggars. The beggars passed by, one after the other, each with his begging bowl in his right hand, his left hand on the shoulder of the one in front of him. They were almost past when one near the end of the chain sank to the ground. Harold handed the reins of the cart pony to Libby and went to the fallen beggar. He cradled the man’s head in his lap as he uncorked a brown bottle and forced a few drops of water between the dry lips.

Harold looked at Libby and shook his head. “Nothing to do for him but make his last moments more comfortable.”

“What is it?” she asked.

“Basically starvation.” Harold placed his hand on the man’s forehead and spoke to him in Chinese, telling him about the Jesus who loved him and would welcome him home to heaven if he only opened his heart.

The man gave a toothless smile and then closed his eyes. Harold rose and laid the body in a depression by the side of the road. He would tell the officials in the village, although it was doubtful that anyone would see to the matter with any speed. Libby squeezed her husband’s arm. “I think he heard you. I’m certain he sensed the love you expressed.”

They went on into the town of low houses built of mud and straw. Libby shook her head. “Not a single person is laughing. There’s not even a flower in a pot or a bird anywhere.”

Two tin pails stood outside every door. To catch rainwater perhaps? Libby started to inquire and then hid her face, hot with embarrassment, as a pajama-clad man with graying pigtail came from the house and demonstrated the intended use of the pail. When he finished, he apparently judged the pails to be full enough. He hung them on each end of a thick cane, hoisted the cane across his shoulders, and turned toward the wheat field.

“Harold?”

“Fertilizer. They are too poor to waste anything.”

A few houses further along, several men sprawled on a straw mat before a doorway. Brown smoke curled up from their pipes, and their eyes looked glazed. “They have reason to hate foreigners,” Harold said. “British merchants bring opium from India to trade for tea and silk. We have forced this evil on them.”

Libby frowned. “But surely the trade is illegal. Doesn’t the Chinese government do anything?”

“That’s why East India merchants farm the opium out to private traders—but it comes to the same thing. The money winds up in London. And now even London is dotted with dens of specimens as hopelessly lost as these.”

On the next corner Harold set up his temporary dispensary in the front of a small shop. The owner, who lived upstairs, had become a Christian on one of Harold’s first visits to the village and now happily made space for the missionary among the baskets and bowls he sold. Harold began by fastening a cross to the wall by the door, then opened a case of ointments and bandages. Even before he was ready, a little boy with a running sore on his foot limped in behind a young mother holding a two-year-old girl who had been bruised by a fall. She now had large sores over her face and limbs where the native practitioner had cauterized her with a hot poker. Harold Schofield began immediately binding their wounds and talking to them of Jesus.

Libby went out into the street and called in Chinese to a cluster of half-naked, ragged children. “Come. Come here. Do you want to hear a story?” She held up a poster-sized picture. When she had finished telling them of the God who said, “Let the little children come unto me,” she taught them to sing: “Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart ev’ry word…”

As soon as the sun began to lower, the street filled with beggars looking for something to eat. Many seemed almost loaded down with the rags they wore, for whatever they owned, they wore. Others, who had no rags, tied clumps of straw around their waists with ropes and bits of string. Whatever they found they stuck in their belts—old socks, cucumbers, bottles.

Libby asked the children to join her in praying to the God who loves children. Then she sent them scampering to their homes, hoping that they had homes—with bowls of vegetables and noodles awaiting them.

Sitting on straw mats at the back of Mr. Ho Chu’s shop, Harold and Libby shared a pot of green tea and bowls of noodles while they told him more of the love of God.

Later, they jolted homeward in the red sunset glow.

*

January 1883 in northern China was even colder than normal. Harold Schofield usually shunned all concessions to convenience and comfort. Even at its most modest, the small study beside his surgery at the mission station was luxury compared to the conditions countless millions of his beloved Chinese lived in. Tonight, however, Harold did not reject the little charcoal burner Libby insisted on lighting.

“Please don’t argue with me, Harold. The ink will congeal on your nib if you refuse all warmth, and then you’ll never finish writing that letter, and you’ll never come to bed.”

In spite of his fatigue, he dropped his pen and opened his arms to his wife. “Then by all means, light your brazier. And come sit on my lap while we wait for the room to warm.”

In a moment she was nestling in his arms. “Harold, you work too hard.”

“But there is so much to do. Our Lord never spared himself. How can I find excuse to stint my duty?”

“But have you no duty to yourself? I won’t press your duty to your wife and children.” She moved his hand from her shoulder to her abdomen.

“Children, Libby?” He felt no roundness under his hand, but surely he did not mistake her meaning. “You did say children?”

She raised her head to kiss his cheek. “Yes, my darling. Little Harold will have that playmate we have wished for him.”

“Oh, my dear.” He wrapped her tightly in his arms, his cheek against her soft hair. “I am so happy. When?”

“Early next summer.”

He started to tell her again how happy he was, to ask how she was feeling, to thank God for yet another blessing. But she kissed him once more and jumped lightly from his lap. “Now back to work for you. I’ll not keep you up any later even for such good news.”

He shook his head. “How can I concentrate on my correspondence now?”

“Tell them how good God is, how beautiful life is.” She blew him a kiss and left the room.

Harold smiled. Libby did not have to tell him to speak of the goodness of life. Its reality was always before him. He dipped his pen and wrote: “Open your heart and keep it open to the love of the Lord Jesus, to the love of others, and to everything beautiful, letting it send his pleasure through your heart, and thanking your Father who gives you both the pleasure and the power to enjoy it.”

*

By that July last January’s cold seemed a distant memory. “What the Lord blesses everywhere is not great knowledge, but great devotedness of heart to himself.” Harold Schofield lay his pen aside and rubbed his eyes. Even the physical strength and ability to endure fatigue God had blessed him with had its limits, and Harold had to admit that he was working beyond his capacity. That day, in addition to his regular duties, he had performed four very demanding operations. One man in particular he was deeply concerned about. He prayed that the Lord would add his healing touch, for Harold had done all he could do.

In nearly three years he had treated some 10,000 patients and performed almost 300 operations, but it was a drop of water in the ocean of need around him. Please, Lord, let my appeal for more workers fall on willing ears. He picked up his pen. “There are already eight American lady doctors in China. One American mission alone has five such ladies…”

What did he hear? Was that Libby with two-month-old Timothy? He crept to the door of the bedroom and peeked in. The pale light fell across the face of his wife and infant son. A lump rose in Harold’s throat. They were so precious. And two-year-old Harold, Jr., on the cot beside them. Thank You, God, for such richness of blessings.

Harold returned to his desk. “The Christian life is a pouring out of ourselves as Christ poured himself out for us. Prayer is a pouring out of our deepest desires before Jesus…”

There it was again. Downstairs. Was someone trying to break into the house? Then quiet. It must have been someone in the street. Now what had he intended to write? Oh, yes. A line of personal testimony. “My health, my time, my all is a sacred trust from God to be used and improved for him.”

This time the knocking below was distinct. Harold picked up his candle and made his way down the narrow stairs, hurrying so that the increasingly insistent knocking wouldn’t waken his wife and children. It must be an emergency. The porter normally never admitted anyone at this hour.

In the light of the wavering candle, Harold recognized Pao-ting Fu, who had accepted Christ at a street meeting only a few weeks before. The man leaned against the wall for support. “Cannot breathe. Cannot swallow.”

Harold saw the thick bluish-white membrane in the man’s throat. Diphtheria. He gave Pao-ting Fu his best medicines.

Pao-ting shook his head, his black queue bobbing from side to side. “No, Doctor, I stay here. You give medicines.”

Harold was kind but firm. “No, I cannot let you stay here. Diphtheria is highly infectious. I cannot risk the lives of my other patients.” Harold walked the man to the door and shut it behind him before going upstairs to his bed.

 

“Doctor Harold, Doctor Harold.”

Harold jumped out of bed and groped for his slippers. He had slept later than he meant to. Apparently his assistant had already made the morning rounds of their inpatients.

Before the door was fully open, Miss Lancaster broke the news. “Please come. We have had a death in the hospital.” His assistant was pale and shaking.

“Oh, no.” Harold pulled his blue Makwa jacket over his head. “That poor man with the abscess I operated on yesterday.” He shook his head. “I was much afraid for him.”

Even from outside the room, he noticed a foul smell from the stove-bed on which the body was lying. But as he approached the k’ang, he realized it was not his surgery patient. It was Pao-ting Fu. He must have sneaked back into the clinic after Harold sent him away.

Anxious to prevent infection of his other patients lying on the same stove-bed, Harold grasped the man’s jacket and tugged him off the k’ang. As he did so, a cloud of body lice from Pao-ting Fu’s clothing made Harold sneeze and choke.

One week later Harold Schofield could no longer ignore the fever, aches, and weakness he had struggled against for days. The doctor took to his own bed. His eyes were bleary, his circulation sluggish, his fingers spotted with gangrene. He had contracted a severe case of typhus from Pao-ting Fu.

Libby came in, barely able to control her concern. It had been years since Harold had been ill. He was noted for his robust physique and unflagging energy. It was Harold who took care of all others. “Tell me what to do for you, my dear. How can we nurse you?”

She carefully wrote down his directions—cold packs to the torso, elixir of aconite and quinine for fever… “And, Libby, I would like to see our little boys. Libby, lead them—the children—to Jesus early, for that is far above all. The highest of all knowledge is to know the love of Jesus.”

Too choked to speak, she nodded as he continued. “And tell Mr. Taylor and the Council that these years in China have been the happiest of my life.”

Elizabeth Schofield sent for Timothy Richard of the Baptist Missionary Society. Together they nursed Harold for six days. Thursday evening Timothy read the thermometer. “106 degrees.” He shook his head.

Libby reviewed her notes, although she knew them by heart. “Ten towels, wetted with ice water, apply for forty-five minutes.” She set to work.

But the fever did not abate. “Surely we aren’t going to give up hope?” Libby’s eyes were wide, her throat hot and dry.

Richard spooned a mixture of brandy and milk into Harold’s mouth. But the fever rose. 107 degrees. 108 degrees.

At 2:15 a.m. Harold Schofield opened his eyes. “Heaven at last. It is so beautiful.” He closed his eyes.

*

Back in England, God was faithfully answering Harold’s fervent prayer for missionaries to China as the Cambridge Seven answered the call to serve with the China Inland Mission.

Photo credits:Frontispiece from: The Jubilee Story of the China Inland Mission, Marshall Bromhall, London, Morgan & Scott, 1915.

Alchetron, the Free Social Encyclopedia.

 

 

Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

www.donnafletchercrow.com

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Reader Comments:

Lovely to read his story all in one piece, and lovely to read it in the book too. So nice to see that picture of the Cambridge seven as well. I love this book!
-Sheila deeth, March 14, 2020

Thank you so much, Sheila! A few edits and rearrangements from the book, of course, but I,too, enjoyed reading it all as one piece.
-Donna Fletcher Crow, March 14, 2020

A beautiful true story of faith and commitment to missionary work in China. It shows the real dedication of those who gave their lives in that endeavor. I really enjoyed reading this story.
-Judith K Varney, March 15, 2020

What happened to the wife and sons? I can't seem to find that information online. With Libby's throat being "hot and dry," I can't help worrying that she was sick as well. And with the diphtheria around...
-Susan, March 15, 2020

Thank you so much for sharing this inspiring yet heartbreaking story. My prayer too has been for more workers for His work in the world.
-Beverly, March 16, 2020

Judith and Beverly, thank you so much for your lovely comments! I am so glad this story touched you.
Susan, good questions! I am quite certain that Libby and her sons Harold, 2 and Timothy 2 mo. returned to England, but although I have searched old newspaper accounts and other sources I haven't found confirmation of that. I'll keep looking.
-Donna Fletcher Crow, March 16, 2020

It always seems to be the “kernel of wheat dropped into the ground” that God uses. I really enjoyed this story. I read several of your books many years ago and then suddenly discovered new ones recently. By the way, I’m 73 and remember when a family in the next block had a diphtheria quarantine sign on their house.
-Christine , March 22, 2020

Yes, Christine! I remember those quarantine notices on houses--bright pink they were. I'm thinking they did it for measles, too. We're of an age and I treasure my memories!
-Donna, March 23, 2020

I agree, Donna. Those were the days when people caught all sorts of diseases that had no vaccine. The neighbor next door suffered retardation from measles; the boy across the street had a withered arm from polio; and we all suffered weeks of isolation with various epidemics. And then some people don’t want to get vaccinations. I don’t understand that.
-Christine , March 23, 2020

P.S. My mother cried for joy when the children in my school class were given the Salk vaccine for polio.
-Christine , March 23, 2020

Yes! Stan and I have talked about that--we remember the epidemics every summer with pictures of rows of iron lungs in the papers. There's nothing like having an historical perspective to help cope with the present.
-Donna, March 23, 2020

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